Restaurant review: Renovated Brochach shifts toward comfort food

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By Bill Livick/Special to The Gazette
Thursday, September 28, 2017

MADISON—At Brocach Irish Pub on the Capitol Square, Irish fare has been replaced by the appeal of an American bistro.

The pub, which has been operating since 2004, closed for four months last year while the owners redesigned the menu and restaurant interior. The transformation turned Brocach into a bistro with a tight menu built around such items as burgers, Ruebens, fish and chips and roasted chicken.

Though the restaurant has retained some Irish favorites, such as shepherd's pie and bangers and mash, items such as steak and seafood options now compliment the bar's 20 beers on tap.

As expected in an area with stiff competition, the food is generally good. It leans in the direction of comfort food, which tends to appeal more in cooler weather than in the heat of summer.

What grabbed our immediate attention during a recent visit was how much brighter the new dining room has become. Dark wood walls have been replaced with white plaster, and plush cushions have given way to blonde wood tables and chairs. A stairway leading to the second floor has been moved so it no longer dominates the center of the first-floor dining room.

About the only things that remain the same are a handsome bar, with its classic back bar and large selection of whiskies, and the fact Brocach still hosts live music each Wednesday and Sunday night.

The spacious venue sits on West Main Street directly across from the Capitol, and it is busy during the after-work happy hour rush. Service can be spotty at times, but staff is friendly and professional.

The menu lists seven starters including a cheese and charcuterie plate ($12) and a vegetable plate ($9). We loved the kitchen's crab, corn and bacon dip ($10), a generous portion that is served with house-made corn chips. It features clearly identifiable flavors that blend nicely and a blistered surface from oven roasting. Other appetizers are cod cakes ($10), house-smoked salmon ($9), cheese curds ($9) and buffalo wings ($10).

Diners can choose from four salads and two soups. The power bowl salad includes baby kale, romaine, quinoa, shaved asparagus, pickled red onion and toasted almonds, all tossed with a shallot vinaigrette ($11). The serving size is good, and on paper the salad looks great, but its flavor was surprisingly bland. We thought perhaps there was not enough dressing.

Because Brocach now bills itself as a bistro, we decided to check out its Capitol burger ($12)—a double-patty affair with pickles, minced red onion, American cheese and Dijon mayo, served on a butter roll. Sure enough—it's a successful, filling hamburger. Two 4-ounce patties is an ample amount of beef, and it comes with a side of pub fries for a filling meal indeed.

The kitchen does wonderful things with mac and cheese, which boasts large pieces of elbow macaroni baked with white cheddar and sprinkled with bread crumbs. You can order it as a side ($4) or as an entrée with lobster ($16). The latter includes tasty chunks of the crustacean along with shallots, lemon and white wine. It's delicious, and you'll probably have leftovers because it's served in a large bowl.

Salmon appears on most menus these days, and why not? When done right, it's tasty, filling and nutritious. Brocach's version is right on the mark: pan-seared and served with blistered tomatoes, capers, brown butter and roasted red potatoes ($21). Like most things here, it comes in a generous portion. This kitchen's version features a crispy crust and flaky, moist, tender interior cooked rare.

About the only problem with our meal was the timing. We were looking for the starter, a salad to share and then main courses, but those came shortly before the salad, and we were left with too many plates and too little table for it all. Not a dreadful mistake, but somewhat awkward.

What's for dessert? The menu lists three options: chocolate stout cake with salted caramel vanilla ice cream, carrot cake with coconut cream cheese frosting, or Bailey's cheesecake with chocolate chip cookie crust. Each costs $7.

What we had instead: pumpkin bread pudding with vanilla ice cream (also $7). It was the only thing mentioned when we asked about dessert, and it's a winner. (We didn't ask what happened to the other choices.)

There's nothing truly novel in Brocach's new menu, but a server said it's going over better than the previously offered Irish fare. We're glad they could make the transition and continue operating in the new digs, which, by the way, could use some art on the walls.

The business is open for lunch, dinner and offers brunch on weekends beginning at 9 a.m.

Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison-area restaurant reviews for The Gazette.

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